Monday, June 24, 2013

The White North has thy Bones - Searching for bones; tracing the lost history of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918

The White North has thy Bones

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The Chance of a Lifetime…

We’ll sail north up the west coast of Banks Island in the western Arctic this July, exactly 100 years after the Canadian Arctic Expedition was launched. We’ll find the “bones” of one abandoned ship, and possibly the bones of the lost Captain Bernard. I am an arctic biologist and historian, and have spent much of my life researching this fascinating but little known scientific expedition, with mounting respect and excitement. I didn’t dream I would actually be able to trace the path of this five-year Expedition which laid the scientific foundation for our knowledge of the Canadian Arctic. Though it resulted in the loss of 17 lives and two ships, it also achieved many huge successes worthy of Canadian pride. But this Expedition slipped into history without the trumpeting it deserved, because it returned in the midst of WW1.

We need you on board to enable us to research and film several of the Expedition camp sites for a new documentary film. Together we will bring this exciting Canadian story to life on the screen for the first time.

“…the White North has thy Bones” (Tennyson)

We aim to discover and document the “bones” of the Expedition’s abandoned schooner, the Mary Sachs, and search for signs of its Captain, Peter Bernard, who disappeared on the north coast in the winter of 1916, while trying to deliver precious bags of mail to the Expedition camp on Melville Island. We will also watch for fossils eroding from the shoreline. We will travel north on a 46-foot motor sailboat, captained by Bob Bernard, great-great nephew of Captain Peter Bernard.

Never done before…

We will explore, document and film the Expedition’s headquarters and ten camps, including one where Expedition member Natkusiak, later known as Billy Banksland, lived alone for several winter months. We will also interview Inuvialuit Elders in Sachs Harbour, some of whom descend from Expedition members, capturing their stories about the people who lived at the Expedition sites and about the places themselves. All this will result in a new documentary film about this pivotal event in Canada’s history which first opened a window to Canada’s once mysterious north.

It’s now or never...

Global warming and the decrease in sea ice has opened the north to tourists and other potential disturbance. With accelerated coastal erosion, precious artifacts are already disappearing into the sea. Check the map and ice chart in our Gallery.

NO government funding…

The Canadian government has committed to celebrating the Canadian Arctic Exhibition but there has been no government funding yet given to our search and documentary. As the only project that involves new knowledge of the Expedition and its members, we are opening this adventure to public funding, so that YOU THE PEOPLE CAN JOIN OUR SEARCH, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Canada’s great Arctic Expedition.

The bare minimum…

The expedition members, especially Bob Bernard, have committed their own unpaid time and resources to the project. We are hoping that you can help us raise $20,000 to pay for the basic expedition costs: air travel for two researchers to Sachs Harbour ($5,000 each), accommodation in Inuvik ($600) and Sachs Harbour ($2,500), a back-up HD video camera with underwater capability ($500), contribution to food and supplies for the boat trip ($1,000), hiring of local Inuvialuit guide and bear monitor ($1,600) and access permits for use of Inuvialuit lands ($400). Any funds raised in excess of $20,000 will be used towards the estimated $30,000 in film production costs.

What’s in it for you?

Check out our “cool” Arctic perks for our supporters: new Canadian Arctic coins, DVDs, books, and the rare, mint, unopened 1922 CAE Report on Arctic Insects. Please donate what you can... We will gratefully acknowledge every little bit that helps us get North!

Select a Perk
for your contribution

Expedition Supporter

Our grateful thanks and your name on our website's Partners page.
Estimated delivery: July 2013

1 out of 200 claimed

Expedition Member

The above, plus a special CAE postcard mailed from Sachs Harbour.
Estimated delivery: July 2013

6 out of 200 claimed


The above, plus a mint Canadian $2 Polar Bear coin.
Estimated delivery: August 2013

4 out of 200 claimed


All of the above, plus a special funder's edition of the new CAE documentary on DVD.
Estimated delivery: December 2013

12 out of 12 claimed


All of the above, plus a special funder's edition of the new CAE documentary on DVD, and a photo print of Natkusiak, his 1916 winter camp, or his schooner "North Star."
Estimated delivery: December 2013

4 out of 100 claimed


All of the above, plus a copy of the book, Dawn in Arctic Alaska, by CAE anthropologist, Diamond Jenness, signed by his son, historian Stuart Jenness, plus an invitation to a special early screening of the documentary film (sorry, travel and hotels not included)
Estimated delivery: December 2013

4 out of 100 claimed


All of the above, plus a mint, unopened copy of the 1922 CAE Report on the Insects of the Arctic.
Estimated delivery: December 2013

1 out of 20 claimed


All the above plus a special get together with a member of the Expedition team (sorry, travel and hotels not included), and a mint Canadian Arctic Expedition silver commemorative coin (value $55)
Estimated delivery: December 2013

0 out of 5 claimed

Charitable receipts…

Those wishing a tax receipt can be accommodated through the Canadian Museum of Nature, a non-funding supporter of our research expedition. Here’s how: (Contact David at address below).

Help spread the word…

It will really help us if you can spread the word and encourage your friends and colleagues to view this site and join our adventure. You can help us contect on Facebook, Linkedin, by email, and by checking the Indiegogo share tools.

Follow the journey on our blog…

Departure of our boat, the Bernard Explorer, from Nome Alaska, in mid July, almost 100 years after the 1913 departure of the ill-fated Karluk, the original expedition’s flagship, from the same harbour 

Arrival in Sachs Harbour, where remnants of the CAE schooner, Mary Sachs, still remain (here we will determine where the Expedition members lived and compare the 1914 photos with the still existing house and tent foundations)
erection of a new plaque commemorating the men who died on the Expedition, and our sail northwards, straight to the Gore Islands

Mary Sachs at Herschel Island, Yukon Territory, August 10? 1914. GHW 51431.Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Centennial cairn with parts of Mary Sachsengines, Sachs Harbour, Banks Island. June 1996. Source: David Gray

David Gray in canoe, where the schoonerMary Sachs landed 88 years before. September 10, 2002. Source: David Gray


The search for Captain Bernard’s bones, the missing mail bags, and other evidence of his fate (we’ll also be recording wildlife sightings and fossil locations)

Details of our route, the ship, our clothing, food, maps, our equipment, sleeping and eating quarters, weather, wildlife dangers, excitements and disappointments


View with us the fabulous open landscape, the people and places of Sachs Harbour, rough ocean waves, bowhead whales and other sea life, Arctic birds and mammals such as, muskoxen, polar bears, Arctic foxes, and Arctic wolves.


The music for the film will be based on three songs composed by Inuit members of the original Expedition, and recorded by Diamond Jenness, Expedition anthropologist, in 1915 and 1916. We will post some of this music on the blog for you to experience.

To our international friends & colleagues:

The original Canadian Arctic Expedition was funded by the Government of Canada and there were 40 Canadian members (12 from the south and 28 from the north, mostly Inuit). However it was truly an international crew: 41 Americans (26 from Alaska, many Inupiat), 6 from Scotland, 5 Norwegians, 4 from Denmark, 3 from England, 2 from Portugal, 2 from Australia, and 1 each from Estonia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Who we are…

Bob Bernard (great-great nephew of Captain Peter Bernard) and captain/owner of the expedition’s 46-foot motor sailboat, Bernard Explorer, with over 20 years experience sailing in the Bering Sea

Dr. David Gray, expedition leader with 40 years experience doing biological and historical research in the Canadian Arctic; several museum exhibits on Arctic topics, and 6 other documentary films to his credit

Mitzi Dodd (great-great niece of Captain Peter Bernard) geneaologist and historian Inuvialuit guide and bear monitor from Sachs Harbour

Dr Paul Krejci, historian from the University of Alaska specializing in the spread of traditional and introduced music across the Arctic


Dr. David Gray
Grayhound Information Services
3107 8th Line Road, Metcalfe ON K0A 2P0
TEL: 613-821-2640 




Captain Robert A. Bartlett

Captain Robert A. BartlettCaptain Robert Abram “Bob” Bartlett was born in Brigus, Newfoundland, on August 15, 1875. He was the son of William Bartlett and the grandson of Abram Bartlett, both prominent sea captains. He was educated at Bishop Feild College and eventually completed his Master certificate at Halifax’s Nautical Academy in 1904. In 1909, Bartlett commanded the Roosevelt on Robert E. Peary’s North Pole Expedition, and in 1913, he was approached by Vilhjamar Stefansson to master the Karluk on his Canadian Arctic Expedition. In 1925, Captain Bob acquired the schooner Ethie M. Morrissey. From 1926 until his death, apart from numerous fishing and hunting trips in his little schooner, Bartlett also made twenty voyages to the Arctic collecting specimens, aiding in archaeological surveys, correcting geographical charts, and collecting animals for zoos. After a life spent doing what he loved, Bartlett died of pneumonia in New York City on April 28, 1946, and was buried at his birthplace. His boyhood residence, Hawthorne Cottage, is a National Historic Site.

Books By Captain Robert A. Bartlett:
The Last Voyage of the Karluk: Shipwreck and Rescue in the Arctic
By Captain Bob Bartlett
The Last Voyage of the Karluk By Captain Bob Bartlett
Click to Enlarge
Genre: Biography and Autobiography: Adventurers and Explorers
Imprint: Flanker Press
Format: Paperback, 300 pages, b&w photos, full index
Pub Date: April 2007
Price: $19.95
ISBN-10: 1-897317-18-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-897317-18-1Shipping Weight:  0.6 kg

About this Book

On January 4, 1914, the Karluk was stuck in ice when the ominous sound of the ship’s stern being ripped open by pack ice was heard by all on board. It sounded like the firing of a cannon. Bartlett immediately ordered supplies be unloaded on the ice. The Karluk began to break up on January 10, and all on board were ordered to abandon ship. When everyone was safely on the ice, the captain himself went back to his cabin and, all alone, put Chopin’s Funeral March on his Victrola. As the water rose in the cabin, he whispered "Goodbye," left the sinking vessel to the mournful sound of Chopin’s music and hurried out on the ice. It was to be the beginning of one of the greatest feats of valour in world history.


The Last Voyage of the Karluk
by Captain Bob Bartlett

We did not all come back.

Fifteen months after the Karluk, flagship of Vilhjalmar Stefansson’s Canadian Arctic Expedition, steamed out of the navy yard at Esquimault, British Columbia, the United States revenue cutter, Bear, that perennial Good Samaritan of the Arctic, which thirty years before had been one of the ships to rescue the survivors of the Greely Expedition from Cape Sabine, brought nine of us back again to Esquimault—nine white men out of the twenty, who, with two Eskimo men, an Eskimo woman and her two little girls—and a black cat—comprised the ship’s company when she began her westward drift along the northern coast of Alaska on September 23, 1913. Years of sealing in the waters about Newfoundland and of Arctic voyaging and ice travel with Peary had given me a variety of experience to fall back upon by way of comparison; the events of those fifteen months, I must say, justified the prophecy that I made in a letter to a Boston friend, just before we left Esquimault: “This will have the North Pole trip ‘beaten to a frazzle.’”

It did; and there were two main reasons why.

One was that the Karluk, though an old-time whaler, was not built, as the Roosevelt was, especially for withstanding ice pressure; very few ships are. Dr. Nansen’s ship, the Fram, was built for the purpose and has had a glorious record in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Karluk, a brigantine of 247 tons, 126 feet long, twenty-three feet in beam, drawing 16 ½ feet when loaded, was built in Oregon originally to be a tender for the salmon fisheries of the Aleutian Islands. Her duty had been to go around among the stations and pick up fish for the larger ships. The word karluk, in fact, is Aleut for fish. When later in her career she was put into the whaling service her bow and sides were sheathed with two-inch Australian ironwood, but she had neither the strength to sustain ice pressure nor the engine power to force her way through loose ice. She had, however, an honourable career in the now virtually departed industry of Arctic whaling, and was personally and pleasantly known to Stefansson, who had travelled on her from place to place along the Alaskan coast on several occasions during his expeditions of 1906–7 and 1908–12.

The other reason was that the winter of 1913–14 was unprecedented in the annals of northern Alaska. It came on unusually early, as we were presently to learn, and for severity of storm and cold had not its equal on record.

The National Geographic Society had originally planned to finance our expedition, and it was only at the urgent request of the Canadian premier, the Right Hon. R. L. Borden, that the Society relinquished its direction to the enterprise. The Canadian Government felt that since the country to be explored was Canadian territory it was only fitting that the expedition fly its flag and be financed from its treasury.

When I returned from the seal fisheries to Brigus, my old home in Newfoundland, in the spring of 1913, I found awaiting me a telegram from Stefansson, asking me to join his expedition and take charge of the Karluk. I went at once to New York, then to Ottawa for a day with the government authorities and direct from there to Victoria, BC. It was the middle of May and there was work to be done to get the ship ready to sail in June.

It was an elaborate expedition, one of the largest and most completely equipped, I believe, that have ever gone into the Arctic. It differed, too, in one other respect, than that of size, from previous Arctic expeditions, in that its main objects were essentially practical—in fact, one might say, commercial. It was in two divisions. The northern party, under Stefansson himself, was primarily to investigate the theory so ably advanced by Dr. R. A. Harris of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey that new land—perhaps a new continent—was to be found north of Beaufort Sea, which is that part of the Arctic Ocean immediately to the north of Alaska. “The main work of the party aboard the Karluk”—to quote Stefansson—“was to be the exploration of the region lying west of the Parry Islands and especially that portion lying west and northwest from Prince Patrick Island. The Karluk was to sail north approximately along the 141st meridian until her progress was interfered with either by ice or by the discovery of land. If land were discovered a base was to be established upon it, but if the obstruction turned out to be ice an effort was to be made to follow the edge eastward with the view of making a base for the first year’s work near the southwest corner of Prince Patrick Island, or, failing that, on the west coast of Banks Island.” The Karluk was to go first to Herschel Island, the old rendezvous of the Arctic whaling fleet and the northernmost station of the Canadian Mounted Police. If she should be beset in the ice and forced to drift, it was expected that certain theories about the direction of Arctic currents would be tested, and there would also be opportunity for dredging and sounding.

Both of these main objects were accomplished; Stefansson ultimately found new land and the Karluk engaged in an Arctic drift, but neither result was attained in quite the way which was planned when we were getting the ship ready in May and June 1913. We returned—some of us—rather earlier than we expected, for we were prepared to be away until September 1916, and contrary to one of the theories of Arctic currents we did not drift across the Pole to the Greenland shore. Before we started some of the newspaper accounts of the expedition said that the ship might be crushed in the ice; the newspapers are more often correct than they are supposed to be.

The Log of Bob Bartlett: The True Story of Forty Years of Seafaring and Exploration
By Captain Robert A. Bartlett
The Log of Bob Bartlett: The True Story of Forty Years of Seafaring and Exploration  By Captain Robert A. Bartlett
Click to Enlarge
Genre: Biography and Autobiography: Adventurers and Explorers
Imprint: Flanker Press
Format: Paperback, 318 pages, b&w photos
Pub Date: September 2006
Price: $16.95
ISBN-10: 1-897317-00-X
ISBN-13: 978-1-897317-00-6Shipping Weight:  0.6 kg
About this Book
Each year, thousands of people visit Bob Bartlett’s boyhood home located in Brigus, Newfoundland and Labrador, to catch a glimpse of this famous sealing captain’s amazing life. Hawthorne Cottage has been designated a National Historic Site.
The Log of Bob Bartlett captures details and experiences that are not widely known about his forty years of adventures. His log details his two most historic feats—his journey with Robert Peary to reach the North Pole and his heroic deed aboard the Karluk—yet it also sketches his early life and some of his most memorable ice travels during and after the Great War.
Bartlett made twenty-eight excursions into the Arctic, yet one wonders what drove this urge for discovery, especially to the most frigid and unforgiving of places. He has been quoted as saying, “The truth was I could not stop myself in pursuit of adventure. I was committed to the Arctic. I’d got the poison in my veins.”
Review Quotes
"First published in 1928, The Log of Bob Bartlett is very much a product of its time, but even the dust of 80 years hasn't dimmed the lively, compassionate, witty voice of its author."
    The Telegram
"Fascinating reading."
    The Independent
"Explorer's log a 'must-read'"
    The Express
"A fascinating read for anyone with an interest in nautical history."
    The Western Star
"The Log of Bob Bartlett is recommended reading for students of leadership, particularly personal leadership in dire circumstance."
    The Northern Mariner

I didn’t sign up on that first deep-sea voyage in the fall of 1893, without a good deal of thinking. For though I was eighteen and had discovered that I was good enough to handle my father’s schooner, I well knew that putting off in a big ship was to be an entirely different kettle of fish. In the eyes of my friends and family, I was a seafaring man; in the eyes of the law I was nothing.
The law says that you have to do your apprenticeship first and according to figure. Four years must be spent to get a second mate’s papers; another year for first mate and a sixth year for Master Mariner. And these years have to be real years. They don’t count in-between times. You have actually got to be on a ship every one of the 365 days of them and see service on each day. There is no getting around the law on such matters.
One thing that made me think hard was the sight of my father busying himself with our little schooner, the Osprey, which lay at the dock unloading her fish and skins which we turned in for credit at St. John’s; with this credit he would buy up supplies for our small store at Brigus. Father’s hair was just beginning to turn white; and though he was still the hale and hearty skipper I had always known, I saw he no longer put his back into the heavy lifts and straps the way he had done a few years before. It was with a pang I thought of adding to his burden by going off and leaving him. But if I was to succeed him later on I must get my “papers.” And to get them I must do more than seal and fish.
While our little vessel was lying alongside the dock, and after I had my invoices and other papers pretty well checked up, I took a walk out around the hills behind the town. I was thinking things over very seriously. I could see ahead a few years. What chance would I have along with the rest of the fellows if they had papers and I didn’t? I mean the legal papers that made them Master Mariners according to law. What good would it be if I could handle a vessel better than they, or as well as they, if the law didn’t have me down in its books?
After a few hours I came back to the dock. My mind was made up. For a while I was going to leave my friends and my family and all the Labrador fishing and sealing that I loved and go into merchant service. It was not a happy thought. We of the sealing fleet looked down on the merchant service. The big ships that took cargoes were to us what a baggage car, I suppose, is to a cowboy. They were just big carriers of freight. There was no particular excitement about them except that they went to interesting parts of the world.
But my mind was made up; I had to get ahead. So I set forth at once rummaging around the docks for a berth. There was one big freighter, the Corisande, a square-rigged ship of large tonnage and fine record. As luck would have it, I fell in with her skipper that very afternoon.
I can see him now. He was a little fellow, more like a vice-president of a bank than a commander of a big square-rigged vessel. He was small, dapper and had a well-groomed look that goes more with the commercial landsman than with the carefree sailor. I don’t say that sailors are not clean. They are the cleanest people in the world. But Captain Hughes had that clean look which comes from getting scrubbed up every morning in a bathtub at home and not from being scrubbed down by the wind and brine over the side. He wore gloves and he carried a stick with a shining ivory knob on the end of it. Below the ivory the stick had his initials in gold letters. The captain wore a stiff shirt with studs in it and a navy blue suit that was perfectly pressed. He certainly was the picture of a man who not only took great pride in himself but wanted to show the world that the sea was the finest profession going. There was just one thing about him that worried me. That was a nervous way he had of looking about him every now and then as if he were afraid something was going to happen, he didn’t know what.
“Good morning, lad,” said he, waving his stick as a naval officer might salute with his sword.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Fine morning,” he went on.
My feet felt nailed to the dock planking. I wanted to ask him for a job on his ship. I didn’t know how to begin. I had a desperate feeling that he was going to walk away if I didn’t say something. Finally I came right out with it.
“I’d like to go to sea with you, sir.”
He looked me up and down and just as if he had suddenly discovered my presence. I felt my face go red. I didn’t look like a sailor especially, though I was a good hearty lad with a fine coat of sunburn from a summer down among the islands. I didn’t even have any seagoing clothes on; just a cap and an old suit and an open-necked shirt that I guess was faded from scrubbing the fish oil out of it.
“What do you know about a ship?” said Captain Hughes.
“I just brought mine in,” I told him. “Just a schooner, sir; but she’s all right. I can steer and reef and I have been in the Hope and the Panther.”
“Very well,” said Captain Hughes briskly. “Be at the shipping office at three.”
That’s all there was to it.
Remember this was October, the time of the year when the summer hurricanes are over and the winter gales haven’t started yet. It was the ideal season for a trip down the Atlantic. I was to be an ordinary seaman before the mast and I had shipped for the round trip. As this was to be my first voyage, my mouth watered for the experience. Little did I dream that it would end in tragedy.
I went aboard the afternoon before we sailed. My personal gear I carried in a canvas sea bag and a big handkerchief tied together at its corners. Besides what I had on I took an extra suit of woollen cloth for the cold trip back, a change of underwear, two towels, a big razor my father had given me, and a spare pair of heavy fishing boots. When I opened my bag in the forecastle I found also a fine knitted muffler my mother had put in. Wrapped inside it was a jar of her best blueberry jam which she knew was my favourite sweet.
We were towed out of the harbour at dawn next morning. While I was busy about the pin-rails faking down the various ropes in neat coils I had a heavy depressed sort of feeling. Part of it was pure homesickness; but there was also a premonition of trouble lay ahead. I am not especially superstitious, but now I have learned to trust my hunches about the future.
That time on the Corisande I surely was right. Scarcely had we left the dock when a fight started on deck. One man knocked another unconscious with a blow of his fist. Of course many of the men had been drinking as they always do just before leaving port on a long cruise. I guess even the skipper had it a bit up his nose too.
It took us sixty-nine days to make Pernambuco. The usual run was about thirty days. And all the while it seemed as if the Corisande knew she was doomed. I suppose I am stretching my imagination to say such a thing; but the others felt it as well as I. There were times when she suddenly trembled from stem to stern for no reason at all. There was more minor sickness aboard than there should have been. The ship’s company were quarrelsome and ill at ease. At times a strange silence descended on all hands and we looked curiously into one another’s faces to see if anyone knew the answer. A ship’s cat we had aboard disappeared for no reason at all one calm night.
Captain Hughes must also have felt the shadow over us. He was no longer the same smart sailor man I had signed on with. He stayed much in his cabin and when he came out he was irritable and captious.
About halfway down my watchmate got laid out with a bad cut over his eye. As a result I did double wheel tricks, which in turn led to a boil on my neck getting chafed by dirty oilskins I hardly ever took off in the long hard watches. Soon the boil turned into a carbuncle that tormented me day and night with pain. The skipper wanted to lance the carbuncle. He declared that was the only way to cure it. Nearly every day he came at me with a long, thin knife he’d got out of the ship’s medicine chest. But in his peevishness at my timidity his hand shook so that I was afraid to let him try it. This made him madder than ever. It got so that I was afraid to turn in. I felt sure he’d operate on me while I slept. Anyway, the pain was too dreadful to let me sleep. What finally saved my life was a series of hot barley poultices the cook put on when the old man wasn’t looking.
Incidentally, this cook, like many cooks on such a voyage, was a great friend of all us sailors. I never forgot how, on the first day out, the cook caught me washing my teeth with fresh water. He said I’d have to go without that much water for my coffee because fresh water was so scarce.
One day the captain had a regular forepeak row with this same cook. We had all been complaining about the beef being too salty and were tired of eating salt horse every meal. The cook usually took it out of the kegs and boiled it the same day. We had a big Swede who threatened to throw the fellow overboard if he didn’t improve the grub. So the cook made a sort of crate that would hold about fifty pounds of salt horse. He spliced a rope to this crate and hung it from the jib-boom so it would trail in the water. He figured this would iron out some of the brine.
The captain saw this gadget one day and threw a fit. “What sort of river barge do you think I’m running?” he yelled at the cook.
Cookie shook in his shoes.
“Haul that truck aboard!” screamed the old man. “Don’t you know that if we get our horse too fresh that gang of heathen down forward will eat too much of it?”
Finally we hit Pernambuco and beached the cargo. As we’d lost so much time, we took only ballast for the return. The weather was very bright with fresh wind night and day.
The Corisande now suddenly changed her ways. She began to make speed, as though, now that her death was getting close, she got sort of panicky and terrified. When the wind stiffened to half a gale she stood up straight and took it without a reef.
We raced another ship north. She had longer spars and carried more, but we left her hull down astern on the fourth day. Even this triumph didn’t cheer us any.
The crew began to feel surer than ever something was coming. How did we know? We didn’t. A man often feels that way on a ship that is making her last voyage.
“All dead below there?” sings out the mate one afternoon down the forecastle hatch. He’d never heard so much silence, he said. Nobody answered.
Off Cape Cod real cold hit us. The wind backed around into southeast by south. The sun faded out. Snow flurries came with every squall. The days were dark and overcast. The steady whine of the wind through the rigging never stopped.
The skipper had her laid dead for Cape Race. I guess the wind must have stiffened as we were logging over ten knots right along. This was too much for the old Corisande. The mate came and stood by me at the wheel one day. His face was dark as the sky. He shook his head and grumbled: “She can’t stand this—she can’t stand this—” twice over, like that.
By this time the mate wasn’t on speaking terms with Captain Hughes. So he didn’t say anything about what was on his mind to the old man.
Things began to get bad in the afternoon watch of the day before the final tragedy. A heavy sea was running. Twice the Corisande stuck her nose, bowsprit and all, clean under. Two hands were busy chopping ice off her standing rigging. A big water cask lashed abaft the mizzen got adrift and nearly killed the cook. Sounding fore and aft showed she was making water. The heavy rolling and pitching and strain of the big spread we carried were pulling her seams right open.
We were due to round Cape Race the following morning. I had the middle watch—midnight to four a.m. Along about two I said to the mate, “We’re near land, sir.”
“You’re landstruck, young ’un!” he bawled back at me to make me hear above the racket of the wind.
It was as black as your hat. But I’d heard seabirds off the port bow. I knew that meant land.
At four a.m. I turned in “all standing”; that is, with boots and slicker on. I even kept the strap of my sou’wester around my neck. There’s no use denying it now, I was scared. What I was scared of, I couldn’t have said. But I knew that sure as sunrise something terrible was going to happen. And something did.
An awful crash that threw me out of my bunk waked me. I didn’t need to be told what it was. The ship had struck.
I rushed to the topside. To my surprise, the storm had disappeared. But the faint light of dawn showed me where it had gone. Ahead was a vertical black wall that jumped right out of the sea.
The cliff towered three times as high as our masts. I recognized it at once as the Devil’s Chimney, the most dangerous spot on the south shore of Newfoundland. Over its top the storm still roared. Long streamers of snow licked out toward our topmasts.
“We’ve got to work fast!” I heard the mate yell. His voice sounded high and sharp with excitement.
I knew what he meant; we all did. The will of God had put us into a lee that might last an hour or it might last ten minutes. With the storm centre so near and the wind shifting northward it would be in the west the minute the centre passed. Then our lee would be gone.
There was no confusion. We got our boats over the side. I ran below and put on all my best clothes under my oilskins. Just as we shoved off we got the first puff of wind from the northwest. It was like a knife. Minutes counted.
In the half light and drifting snow we felt our way in. The wind was coming in heavy blasts now. Surf was picking up. We could hear it booming against the cliffs to the westward. As I rowed I kept looking at the poor old Corisande standing there alone and helpless like a fat sheep surrounded by wolves with white teeth. If I hadn’t been so scared, I’d have cried.
Just before the gale’s fury came full in we found a narrow opening at the foot of which was a small sand spit. But before we could reach it the wind struck full force. The boat I was in swamped. We floundered around in the icy water and somehow dragged ourselves ashore. God, it was cold!
By a miracle we came through, all of us. We dragged our gear as far as we could above the seas that rolled higher every minute. As soon as we finished, I crawled around on the rocks to get a last look at the poor old Corisande. You see, I loved her. She was my first big ship. She had weathered the storm and brought us in safely. Now I knew there was no hope for her.
The most terrible thrill a seafaring man can ever feel comes when his ship goes down before his eyes. I shall never forget that thrill thirty years ago when the Corisande was being flung against the black south cliffs of Newfoundland.
I strained my eyes to get a last glimpse of the ship’s topgallant sails and royals as the huge combers sprang upon her with a smother of foam. Then a flurry of snow shut her all out. Big waves forty feet high were rolling in. They made a regular thunder when they struck. I climbed higher, but couldn’t seem to get clear of their spray.
Then, of a sudden, the snow stopped. I stood looking down into a dreadful, foaming mess of sea, boiling like a gigantic pot. In the centre of it was the Corisande. Her masts were gone—just a tangle of spars and rigging hung over her port bow. Her hull had broken clean across the middle. While I looked, her after deckhouse went over the side. Then her whole stern slewed and lifted bodily over the fore wreckage.
I felt sick all over at the sight. I shut my eyes. When I opened them again the Corisandewas gone.
That was my first shipwreck.
Cold and miserable I rejoined the others who were huddled in a cleft in the rocks. For a while it looked as if we should all be drowned by the surf that roared at our heels, or frozen to death by the zero wind that slashed down upon us from the cliffs. When I saw the sufferings of some of the men less hardy than I, I realized what it meant to have had my years training down the Labrador with my father who had always insisted on us boys doing our full share of the work.
Finally one of the men said he knew where a fishing hut was on the plateau above us. He worked his way slowly up the dizzy cliff against which we crouched and finally reached the top. Here he was nearly blown into the sea by the blast which struck him. But he groped his way through the drifting snow and a few hours later staggered into the house he was looking for, where some fishermen had gathered to wait out the storm. When he told his story of the wreck they all hurried back with ropes and warm clothing and handed us up more dead than alive.
I reached home several days later. My mother was frankly overjoyed to see me again. What she wanted was to have me back safe and sound. But my father wanted to hear more about the wreck. To my surprise I found I couldn’t talk much about it. Since then I have learned that the loss of a ship affects a seafaring man much like the loss of a dear relative; and it pains him greatly to discuss the circumstances of the sorrow.
The voyage was not without its benefits. I had made a deep-sea voyage, and had taken the first step towards my master’s papers which I knew I must have if I were to succeed in my chosen profession.
Sails Over Ice
By Captain Robert A. Bartlett
Sails Over Ice by Captain Robert A. Bartlett
Click to Enlarge
Genre: Biography and Autobiography: Adventurers and Explorers
Imprint: Flanker Press
Format: Paperback, 322 pages, b&w photos
Pub Date: August 2008
Price: $19.95
ISBN-10: 1-897317-36-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-897317-36-5Shipping Weight:  0.5 kg

About this Book
Sails Over Ice picks up where The Log of Bob Bartlett left off. 
Between the years 1925–1933, Captain Bob Bartlett and the Morrissey explored coastal Greenland and much of Northern Canada, harvesting scientific specimens and Inuit artifacts for North American societies and museums and collecting Arctic mammals for zoos. This world-famous captain from Newfoundland never lost a single soul on either of these trips. Most believe that Bartlett’s contribution to exploration and natural science is without equal.
Review Quotes
"Prose that is crisp, muscular yet humorous. . . . Bartlett was a good writer and he is at his most eloquent when describing a life under sail."
    Atlantic Books Today

"A lively collection of yarns from a great story-teller."
    The Northern Mariner

Sails Over Ice
by Captain Robert A. Bartlett
Forty years ago a workman in the yard of J. F. James and Sons, on the banks of the Essex River, drove a last swift blow with a sledgehammer under the keel, and a schooner slid gracefully into the water. No more graceful, trim, staunch nor able craft than the Effie M. Morrissey, which was her name, was ever launched from this famous shipyard, and the men who built her knew it. In that day shipwrights built sailing vessels with a real pride in their work, and with more than a touch of genius. I believe that any modern schooner would have broken to pieces in a twentieth of the pounding the Morrissey has taken. No one anywhere builds vessels like the Morrissey now.

No gasoline or diesel engines for her; no fancy wire rigging; no turnbuckles. She was just a good, honest, beautiful craft. Her masts were 74 and 76 foot sticks from the pine forests of Maine, and her booms, gaffs, and bowsprit came from the same place. Locust treenails and Swedish iron fastening the white oak knees and stanchions and the white pine deck made the whole one common bond of security.

No one knows the merits of the Morrissey better than I, for I have taken her all over the North Atlantic and Pacific in summer, autumn, spring, and winter gales, and I have found her living up to the fullest and finest traditions of her master builder. He did his work well, and when the northwesters came howling out of the Arctic, and down across the Canadian shores with the power of unlimited momentum behind them, the Morrissey never failed to justify my faith in her. I loved that schooner the first minute I clapped eyes on her, and that feeling has grown ever since.

She was built for old Skipper Morrissey, the most famous fish killer of his day in Gloucester, and the best was none too good for him, or for the gang that shipped with him. He wanted her for the Grand Banks. Those were the days of iron men and wooden ships, and what a team they were! Where Skipper Morrissey wanted to go, his schooner took him – yes, and brought him back, too, all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

I remember one of my bos’ns in a gale in the Gulf Stream saying, “What a schooner! What a schooner! With all this deckload and canvas and the engine going in this blow, and no pumping. Why, sir, last winter in a brand new two-masted schooner running rum off the Long Island coast we had the pumps going all the time. But she was not from Essex, Massachusetts, sir.” A yard doesn’t get a reputation like that without earning it, but when it turns out vessels like the Morrissey it can’t help having a good name.

How did I come to own the Morrissey? The answer to that question is a story, and here it is.


Anonymous said...

Don't you think a boat built in 1967 named "BERNARD EXPLORER" is a little bit tired for a long trip to the Arctic? Why has details about the boat been omitted? Go figure...

Captain on GREY GOOSE said...

I'd be more concerned that for a $5000 donation you don't even get to join the team and be part of the Expedition. Seems something is amiss... hummmm?

Captain on GREY GOOSE said...

The Last Voyage of the Karluk is fantastic... I'm looking forward to the other Captain Bob Bartlett book and log. History of the Arctic comes alive when I read them...

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